Action of 1815-02-20

20th February 1815
Part of : The War of 1812 (1812 - 1814)
Previous action : Capture of the President 15.1.1815

 

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland

 
Unknown Division
Ship NameCommanderNotes
 
Ship NameCommanderNotes
Cyane (22) Gordon Falcon (1777-1854)
Levant (20) George Douglas
 

United States of America

 
Unknown Division
Ship NameCommanderNotes
 
Ship NameCommanderNotes
Constitution (44) Charles Stewart (d.1869)
 

Notes on Action


Desciption of the ActionB096
The morning of the 20th of February began with light breezes from the east and cloudy weather. At 1 P.M. a sail was discovered two points off the larboard and three leagues or more away. The Constitution bore up at once, and made all sail in chase. In half an hour the stranger was seen to be a ship, and in a few minutes another vessel was made out ahead ; both were close-hauled, and about ten miles apart. At four o clock it was seen that the weather-most ship was signalling her consort, who immediately shortened sail and waited for her.

For an hour the three vessels sailed on. The two strangers, that were closing on each other gradually, displayed no flags; and although at too great a distance to reach the nearer vessel, Stewart commenced to fire with his bow guns, in the hope that they would display their colours; but to no purpose. It was not doubted, however, that they were English, and the Constitution cleared for action. Soon they passed within hail of one another, and, hauling by the wind on the starboard tack, showed that they were prepared to fight.

Now commenced the usual struggle for the advantage of the weather-gage ; but, finding that the Constitution could outpoint them, the British vessels gave up the attempt, and, forming in line about half a cable's length apart, awaited her on-coming, shortening sail, and evidently preparing some concerted method of attack. At six Stewart shook out his tremendous flag, and the British ensigns climbed up in answer ; at the same moment both vessels gave three rousing cheers. But in grim silence the Constitution bore down upon them, ranged up on the starboard side of the stern most, and let go her broadside at a distance of only three hundred yards. The English replied with spirit, and the cannonading became furious. There being little wind, a great bank of sulphurous smoke, impenetrable as any fog, settled over the water on the Constitution's lee, and completely hid her antagonists. For three minutes the Constitution ceased her fire altogether (the enemy having slackened also), and then Stewart descried the topmasts of the leader stretching above the rolling clouds abreast of him. He fired his broadside, and again the smoke swallowed her from sight, just as it was seen that the ship astern had luffed to take up a raking position on the larboard quarter. The superior seamanship of the American tars and the quality of the vessel they manned could not be shown better than by the manoeuvre which followed. Stewart braced aback his main and mizzen topsails, and immediately the Constitution gathered sternway and slid backwards through the smoke. What must have been the astonishment of Captain Gordon Falcon, the British commander, when he saw alongside of him the enemy that he had hoped, a few minutes before, to take at such a disadvantage! The foremost vessel, that had received the previous broadside of the Constitution, kept pegging away at a spectre in the sulphurous cloud.

At thirty-five minutes past six the enemy s fire again slackened, and the headmost ship was discovered bearing up. Now the Constitution reversed her tactics, shot ahead, crossed the first vessel's stern and raked her fearfully, sailed about the stern most and raked her also; then, ranging up within hail on the larboard quarter, she prepared for another broadside, when the last ship fired a lee gun and remained silent. At ten minutes of seven Stewart lowered his boat and took possession of His Majesty's ship Cyane, mounting 34 guns, commanded by Captain Gordon Falcon. The moon had risen by this time ; the smoke had cleared away, and it was seen that the other ship was trying her best to get away to a place of safety. Seeing this, at once the Constitution spread all sail in chase, and gallantly the smaller vessel, finding escape impossible, stood back close-hauled to meet her. They crossed on opposite tacks, and the Constitution wore immediately under the enemy's stern and raked her with a broadside.

Again the Englishman spread all sail, and endeavoured to escape by running free. The Constitution broke out her lighter sail in chase, firing well-directed shots from her starboard bow-chaser. At ten, seeing she could not escape, the English vessel fired a gun, struck her colours, and yielded.

She proved to be His Majesty's ship the Levant, mounting 21 guns, Captain George Douglass.



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